Among the artists i've known we have all expressed the same common anxiety when it comes to painting flowers. There is something extremely difficult about painting their delicate sofless and mild translucency. They do still have some structure and some have a beautiful that can be very difficult to express, their value compression is also very subtle that can be difficult to express as well.
Last week I agreed to do a portrait swap for one of my friends. She asked me to model for her in exchange for teaching me how to paint flowers, something i've been dying to learn for ages and have clearly been terrified to do as well. After a miserable failed attempt a few months ago I decided this was the perfect time to give it another shot without the restricted time limit and with the proper guidance.
My friend and I set up this still life with Peonies which are currently in season, a copper jug and some beetles. We wanted to have a light background in our painting this time so we set up a light brown drawing board behind out set up and the base was a stained a little with what I am assuming is woodstain. In our paintings we shall paint the 'table" in and make it look like wood.
So after being taught to stretch my own canvas and prepping the stain on the canvas we got into drawing the pot and blocked in one of the flowers in the foreground. I however am very slow and did not manage to get very far on the first day. It was a combination of anxiety and memories of how badly my first flower went that was holding me back. One of the things I found really tricky was the cool and warm tones in the flowers themselves. Bravely I also tried to paint the block in with my limited palette. Which isn't impossible but my friend has told me that there are a few colours that are basically shortcut colours and a little softer to mix which will make the process so much easier.
The following day I had decided to buy the coloured I needed and a few brushes and give that a go. It made a world of a difference. I am not one of those artists that believes you need to most perfect equipment to produce pretty images. You cannot always blame your tools. If you have skill a good artist can make most tools word, however there is a great deal to be said about making an artists life easier when it comes to having high quality pigments and nice brushes. I believe when it comes to using cheap paints and brushes it usually comes at the compromise of the artists vision. If you know you only have hog brushes and cheap pigments to work with, you will go for a style you can adapt to those tools and you WILL be able to produce stunning images.
Using my new paints on day two was a game changer, lead white and Tin lead yellow are amazing. They are soft creamy colours that are warmer and not as colour intense as cadmium yellow and titanium yellow which means they are perfect for the delicate nature of flowers and mixing transitions.
I would love to get a few more colours which I think would actually be perfect for painting other things like portraits and other flowers since I am now convinced it's time to expand out of the limited platte colour range.
This is something i'd like to touch on before I continue. I think the limited palette is extremely amazing when it comes to painting pretty much everything. However once again we do it at the compromise that we may not be able to achieve the colours we want to in life because our colour range just won't get us there. This is perfectly fine and I believe important in the early context of learning. You do not want to overwhelm yourself with an unlimited amount of colours in cool and warm tones, different rare pigments, intensities and tinting powers without knowing how to use the most basic 5-6 colours. The Zorn palette which is actually just 4 colours, black, white, red and yellow ochre served him very very well for portraits. Therefore I would encourage students to hold back a little bit as their understanding and comfortability grows in their palette range, and once they feel comfortable to move onto expanding their colours.
As you can see above I am slowly adding depth and petal structure to my flowers after a rough colour block in and building up thicker paint in some areas and edges of the petal to give it a 3-D look. The term for applying thicker paint is called impasto.
I struggle a bit on day 3 however I am starting to feel a little more comfortable with the process than the first flower. I am now praying in my head and and thanking god we chose to do a big still life and not a one off study of a flower as I would not have understood the process as much as I am here. I have developed the left flower a little and than realised the brush work got very messy so after the whole day of slaving away at my painting I was advised to just rub it back and start again fresh the next day. I left it in the state it is below at the end of the day. I did however manage to squeeze in some leaves as I felt like the floating flower needed a little structure to help them pop a little and a little bit of contrast.
Day 4 we both are slowly losing steam but we insist on motivating each other to keep going. The days are quite intense that we have planned so doing a large still life is quite harrowing. We spend about 3 hours in the morning working on her portrait painting. I awkwardly stand very still which is insanely hard work and than we break up for a very quick lunch and get back to it. In Between we have a few minutes to break every 30 minutes which isn't so bad but it's quite intense to stand very still for that long but I believe we make a great team and we respect each other's thinking time when it comes to painting.
I managed to correct my flowers, I also got in the back peony and corrected more of my leaves and did a bit of patchwork to the background of my painting. It may look a little sloppy now however we will be glazing over the whole thing so it will eventually look uniform. The peony in the back was significantly easier to paint. I wanted to get its inner colours blocked in straight away and was told they shouldn't be as heavily rendered as the flowers in the front so that was a fairly painless task. I am quite pleased with that little guy because I did him without any direction at all aside from being told to put in a few marks to describe the petals and leave it.
Next week I will try and be a little faster and get in the right side of the painting and hopefully tackle the rest of the painting and complete it. I think I will be pleased with this one and was even advised to sell it once I am done!
I will upload the finished product once I am done.